Saturday, 2 May 2009

Drinking in the Medway Towns

After visiting Nelson Brewery in Chatham the other Saturday, myself and fellow West Kent CAMRA members had the rest of the day in which to explore the Medway Towns. Before going any further I have to say that Chatham is a really run down and depressing place, with an awful mis-match of different architectural styles, including a hideous 1970' shopping centre. It is also very unfriendly towards pedestrians. Nearby Rochester, on the other hand, is a complete contrast with a bustling High Street full of interesting shops and crowded out with tourists and shoppers. The city trades a bit on its Dickensian connections, but that’s no bad thing. Rochester also has a cathedral and an imposing Norman castle, built originally to guard the crossing over the Medway.

Our first port of call though, after leaving the brewery, was the King George V pub in nearby Brompton. This former naval pub dates back to the 17th Century and still retains plenty of character. There was an interesting range of beers on sale, which included Harveys Mild, plus Wychwood Dragon’s Bite. In addition a selection of over 40 bottled Belgian beers was available, together with a large range of single malt whiskies. Most of us took advantage of the excellent value for money lunches on offer, and it was a shame to have to leave this excellent pub. Brompton, despite its proximity to Chatham, has a village-like feel to it. By-passed by main roads it seems a quiet and pleasant place to live. I noticed two other pubs close-by, but unfortunately there wasn’t time to explore them on this trip.

We headed into Rochester, passing through the depressing centre of Chatham as quickly as possible. En route we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Medway Estuary, before descending the hill into Rochester itself. Despite getting a little lost we managed to find our way to the Good Beer Guide listed Good Intent. Tucked away on a housing estate, the pub serves all its real ales by gravity, drawn direct from casks stillaged behind the bar. At the time of our visit, brews from 1648 Brewery featured strongly on the beer menu, along with a guest ale from Cotleigh. The Good Intent is run by an enterprising Greek landlord, and we marvelled as he single-handedly man-handled a new cask into place on the stillage.

The Man of Kent, with its attractive tiled frontage advertising Style & Winch Ltd - Fine Ales & Stout, was our next port of call, and is literally just round the corner from the Good Intent. The residents of this part of Rochester are fortunate indeed to have these two Good Beer Guide listed pubs in such close proximity to each other. As befits a pub with the name Kent in its title, the Man of Kent specialises in beers from Kentish micro-breweries; in fact it offers the widest selection of local ales in the county. At the time of our visit, beers from Goachers, Millis, Ramsgate and Whitstable breweries were on sale. There was also draught Paulaner Helles and Kuppers Kolsch from Germany alongside three draught Belgian fruit beers. The Gadds beers were very good, as was the Dark Lager, brewed by Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. I wasn’t brave enough try the 6.7% abv Goachers Old Ale, which was dispensed from a small pin on the bar, but one member of our party ordered a pint not realising at the time how strong it was!

What I particularly liked about the Man of Kent, apart from the excellent beer of course, was the good mix of customers, ranging from students to pensioners, and all ages in between. With its slightly off-beat, Bohemian atmosphere this back-street pub was for me the find of the trip on a day that had already highlighted two other excellent pubs. I will certainly be making a return visit next time I am in Rochester.

Eventually it was time to leave and make our way back to the station. We had one other pub to visit before the day was over, but this pub was quite a train ride away and much closer to home. Most of us had travelled to Chatham via the Medway Valley line. For the return trip we caught the London Victoria service, changing at Swanley onto the Darenth Valley line. Our destination was the Crown at Otford, which just happened to be holding a beer festival! This was taking place in the garden at the rear of the pub, and being the closest weekend to St George’s Day, beers with England’s Patron Saint as their theme featured prominently on the list. Other attractions included a barbecue (which was very welcome), a better than average pub band, (with a guitarist complete with leopard-skin trousers!) and a fire-eater!

Despite the respite of the train journey I was a bit “beer’ed out” by now, so limited myself to a pint of Hog’s Back St George’s Ale, plus a couple of burgers to help soak up some of the excess ale. We left in time to catch the last but one train back to Tonbridge, after what had been a long, but very enjoyable day out.

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